Which of the following is not a spy—James Bond, Jack Bauer, Jason Bourne? Correct answer: they’re all licensed-to-kill spies.
What does this tell us? That to be a successful big or small screen spy, you must have the initials “J.B.” “Jack Ryan” only gets half this formula right. But he’s definitely in the big leagues.
And lead actor Chris Pine is now the big leagues with his predecessors in the role: Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck.
Problem is, big-league movie stars or not, all those preceding performances could be described as wooden. Luckily, although his name might give one pause, Pine is the least wooden Jack Ryan to date.
Jack Gets Spooked
So Jack’s a student. Jack sees the 9/11 attacks on TV; Jack joins the Marines. Jack gets shot down in Afghanistan, meets cute with the rehab doc Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley), and gets recruited into the CIA by Navy Commander Tom Harper (Kevin Costner doing what he does best—mentoring).
Jack uncovers some Russian-perpetrated global financial terrorism that’s sure to trash the U.S. economy and kick off the second Great Depression.
Jack goes to Moscow. Jack meets with dangerous Russian businessman Viktor Cherevin, played by director Kenneth Branagh.
After Ryan is suddenly forced to dispatch his 300-lb Nigerian rogue bodyguard in 5 inches of bathtub water, Harper hands him a big gun and says, “You’re not just an analyst. You’re operational now.”
Cathy Gets Spooked, Sort of
Meantime, Jack’s now-steady doctor girlfriend Cathy has been adding up all Jack’s clues and lies and surprises him in Moscow. When he comes clean, she’s relieved he’s “only” in the CIA, and not having an affair.
Presiding on their ensuing squabble, Commander Harper (who has all the movie’s best lines) reminds them that time is of the essence by saying, “This is geopolitics, not couple’s therapy.”
Cathy’s now in on the plot and forced to play along, and Knightley does a great job of portraying a woman who suddenly discovers her mysterious boyfriend is a cool, macho spy. We see her inwardly swoon with the delight of realizing that she’s landed one who’ll never, ever be boring.
It’s also delightful to watch her register the thrill a real-life doctor-level intellect would have as it slowly dawns on her that she’s got the brains and cool-under-fire talent to play in this world-class dangerous arena.
Pine Not Quite Weathered Yet
Pine’s got the Paul Newman and Frank Sinatra-type dark-rimmed shocking blue eyes that insure a prodigious future female following, and what he lacks in gravitas at age 33, may kick in at age 40.
There’s a bit too much chopper-cam panning of big buildings, the music’s a bit heavy-handed, and the plot’s too complex to grasp clearly.
However, between “The Sting”-type pick-pocketing, clandestine flash-drive hand-offs, and the seen-it-a-million-times hacking-and-downloading of the enemy’s hard-drive while the clock ticks, Branagh’s talented storytelling skills allow the mind to surf the details while getting the addictive adrenaline rush which is why we go see action-thrillers.
Branagh himself is always interesting. This is, after all, the phenomenal early talent who directed and acted in the genre-changing war-movie, “Henry V,” at age 29.
Harper says: “Nobody blows up Pennsylvania” (that’s funnier in context), but you’ll definitely be on the edge of your seat to find out where, and what, will get blown up, and when—when you go see the non-wooden Pine in “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit.”
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Director: Kenneth Branagh
Starring: Chris Pine, Kenneth Branaugh, Keira Knightley, Kevin Costner
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
3.5 stars out of 5